The lost Jedi


Like a TIE Fighter making the jump to light speed, the new Ofsted corporate strategy plan has blasted into the edu-stratosphere. The old strategy – whatever it was – has been erased and replaced by this sleek new document that is, I suppose, intended to be a physical manifestation of the ‘new hope’ crusade led by Sean Harford and Amanda Spielman. They are education’s answer to Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker (or the Emperor and Darth Vader according to your point of view).

Bits of it even read like a job-description for a Jedi Knight: All Padawans considering application must be guided by the principle that they are a force for improvement and enjoy wearing brown cloaks. The ability to lift sunken spacecrafts out of lakes is desirable but not essential.

It’s one-page summary is a punchy affair. For example, Ofsted’s strategic approach can be described in just three words: Intelligent, Responsible and Focused.  BOOM! Got that? Ofsted ain’t messing about here boys and girls, these Bothans mean business. And as well as being guided by the magical Ofsted force they’ve got some pretty clear core values too: Independence, Accountability, Transparency, something about kids. These guys are facing into the wind and firing up the light sabres of judgement and nothing’s gonna stop them. I like it. They’ve even got priority workstreams and I haven’t a freakin’ clue what one of those is but I want one in my school development plan and I want it now!

As you explore these streams you see that the strategy plan is a very measured affair. This is a new, broad and balanced Ofsted. Less, ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away from the real world’ and more, ‘one small step for the educators, one giant leap for the inspectors.’ Ofsted are focusing on their own validity; they want their reports to support as much as they judge. They even want to understand the consequence of their actions whilst championing children at every turn.

This is solid stuff.

Except for the fact that it lacks any solid foundations.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t know what Ofsted are trying to achieve with this strategy. They haven’t thought to state a goal. Oh I know that I’m just a simple-minded headteacher working in the primary sector and that being Ofsted ain’t like dusting crops. But, I always thought having a clear aim was kind of the point of a strategic plan.

Let’s ask a few people a really simple question: What are you up to?

General Tarkin, Death Star commander: Just trying to blow up some planets.

Mothma, the leader of the rebel alliance: Just trying to blow up the Death Star.

Jabba the Hut, fat worm: Just trying to get this bikini clad girl to dance for me.

Princess Leia, one-time chained dancer of Jabba the Hut: Just trying to strangle this misogynistic slug.

Jar-Jar Binks, absolutely no idea: Just trying to destroy a franchise.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector: Just trying to work out some evaluation metrics around our system measures and accountability measures.

Now let me ask YOU a question, dear reader: which one of these answers do you understand the least?

While some of you are still googling ‘evaluation metrics’ let me clarify for everyone else that in the competition for coming up with a succinct goal, Ofsted are trailing behind Jar-Jar Binks! And Ofsted…that’s not cool.

Come on Ofsted, put some light into that sabre. Just tell us what you want to achieve! It can’t be that hard to put into words, surely? I’ll try and help. Feel free to pick from any of the following:

  1. We want all our judgements to be accurate.
  2. We want our advice to improve things for schools when we decide things aren’t good enough.
  3. We want to see better outcomes the year after we’ve visited a school.
  4. We want to see professionals strengthened not crushed.
  5. We want to be welcomed.

I’m sure your strategy plan will help you achieve one, if not all, of these ambitions. And why would you not want to achieve them. They sound pretty good to me. If you could say just one of those things with honesty and integrity you’d be a really positive force for good: raising standards and improving lives.

But without a clear goal, written in large font at the top of your plan, you’re nothing more than a lost Jedi. You wield great power and influence but nobody knows what you want. OK, so we know what you stand for and how you want to go about your business, but, seriously, what is your business? And how will we know when you’ve done it?

I can’t believe you don’t have a single tangible goal that you’re all working on down at Ofsted HQ. I mean, if I don’t put a clear and measurable goal on top of my SDP your Lead Inspector would run me out of space. So why don’t you follow suit? I can’t believe it’s because you don’t want to be judged yourself. So, I’ll put it down to the fact that you couldn’t fit it on your strategy plan without it going over a single page of A4: we’ve all been there. I understand.

But, the truth still remains: I find your lack of goals disturbing.